Electrocuted at Club 33
For some reason, I decided to quit working at Disneyland. I don’t exactly know why. I think there was a girl involved. Wait, actually, yes, I know there was a girl involved.
But then after a few months waiting tables in Newport Beach, I wanted to come back. I missed the mouse. So, I trekked down to the little HR office that doesn’t exist anymore and pleaded to return to the Jungle Cruise, where, just a few months earlier, I had jumped into the river after closing as a way of saying goodbye in grand fashion. However, the HR dude had a different idea.
“You’ve worked in restaurants? How would you like to work at Club 33?”
Club 33 is the sooper-secret, hidden, fancy-pants members-only restaurant inside Disneyland. Behind a non-descript door near the Pirates of the Caribbean exit lay what was, for decades, the only place in the park to get alcohol. And a not-bad chateaubriand. For a long time, Club 33 was a kind of urban myth, only unlike the kid on Facebook that needs a million greeting cards, Club 33 is very real.
Well, heck, I thought. This was a choice between $5 an hour and $5 an hour plus a chance to pull down $300 a night in tips from impossibly rich, glamorous famous people. I will hobnob with the stars. I will be witty, dashing and handsome in a tux. Disney princesses will be all twitterpated.
There’s a word for this kind of dream. It’s called “bullshit.”
Club 33 was indeed for the rich. In the 80s, it had a multi-year waiting list, a $10,000 initiation fee and a yearly upkeep fee. This was before you actually ate or drank anything, which was generally oversalted and overpriced.
But Club 33 was also for the Disney lifers. Disneyland was a union house (as a ride operator, I was actually a Teamster), which meant it was entirely possible for someone to put on a costume and a nametag at age 18 and never, ever take them off. Next time you’re there, take a good look at the employees. Look at the older ones. They’ve quite possibly been watching those spinning tea cups for decades.
So, if you’re a 40-year-old dude that barely got past high school, and now you’re pulling down $300 a day on a union job from which you can never be fired, what’re the odds you’re going to quit?
I wasn’t ever going to be a waiter. I was a glorified bus boy that needed to run the goddamn custom ice crusher. A custom goddamn ice crusher, Italian-made, that spit out perfect little shaved crescent moons of ice that I would spoon into the customers’ water glasses with a gold ladle.
I am absolutely not making this shit up. There was a custom goddamn ice crusher. This was a classy joint. So classy, they made me buy leather-soled shoes, because they didn’t allow rubber. Rubber-soled shoes? What are we, farmers?
And it always jammed, that machine, which sat back in that tiny back hallway behind the kitchen. Well, not jammed. The hopper would get overfilled and the ice wouldn’t fall onto the crusher wheel. Which meant I had to reach up the spout and turn the wheel with my hand to get it started again.
I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, you don’t put your hand into the ice crusher. That’s how you’ll mangle your hand!”
But wait, it’s better than that! Who needs a mangled hand when you could have BURNING ELECTRICITY DEATH! Am I right? Yeah!
I set the wheel free, toggled the switch and saw a small spark.
And now, a brief word about George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison. There’s a dead elephant involved.
Long story short – Westinghouse was “Rah-rah alternating current!” while Edison was all “Fuck yeah direct current!” In order to prove what he said was the danger of AC, Edison electrocuted Topsy, a circus elephant that had killed three people.
Unfortunately, Westinghouse won the War of Currents, and today, all of the electricity that pours out of American outlets is AC. Why is this bad? Well, despite being an elephant-murdering dick (no, really, a total dick), Edison was right. Alternating current is dangerous, and for a very specific reason. Here, let these guys ‘splain it to you.
My hand froze on the ice crusher switch. Yeah, yeah, yeah, froze, ice. It’s not a figure of speech.
Hand, frozen. Muscles locked up. Couldn’t let go. And crawling up my arm, pain. Like a million tiny Pain Goblins. ON FIRE.
As I thought to myself, “Hey, check it out, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up,” that’s when I also noticed that I was standing in a puddle of water. In leather-soled shoes. Does leather conduct electricity? Yes.
What do I do now, I thought? I can’t die here. In Club 33. I believe I have previously mentioned how bad it is to die at Disneyland. Dude, don’t make Mickey angry. You’ll find out the real definition of “getting a Steamboat Willie.”
I pulled my arm off the switch. Yanked. Wrenched. Tore. Whatever, I pulled away, and every muscle in my body cried out “SWEET FREEDOM!”
And I found myself on the floor.
I looked up. Back hallway. Service hadn’t started for the night. Amazingly, nobody saw me. I have this knack of almost dying, of course, but worse, I have this knack of almost dying WHERE NO ONE CAN SEE ME.
I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and went back to bussing Michael Eisner’s table.
A few weeks later, I quit Disneyland the second time.
Because it’s better to be a quitter that’s alive than a lifer that’s dead.